Communist Cuba’s military marks 49 years, celebrating missions at home and abroad |

Communist Cuba’s military marks 49 years, celebrating missions at home and abroad

HAVANA – Communist Cuba’s military marked 49 years Friday, celebrating military successes during the Cold War before assuming a newer mission to bolster the island’s post-Soviet economy.President Fidel Castro joined veterans of the Cuban Revolution and wars in Africa at an evening ceremony that also marked the 30th anniversary of Cuba’s military mission in Angola.The Revolutionary Armed Forces, which replaced the military that existed before the Cuban Revolution, traces its roots to Dec. 2, 1956, when 82 rebels landed on the island on a yacht, the Granma, that sailed from Mexico.Castro and his brother Raul, now the country’s defense minister, were among less than two dozen rebels who survived to reach the mountains, where they launched a guerrilla war against then-President Fulgencio Batista.The two Castros rarely appear together for apparent security reasons and Raul, the designated successor to his brother, did not attend.After the 1959 revolutionary triumph, the new government enjoyed its first major military victory at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 when the island’s nascent militia forces soundly defeated a CIA-led exile army that invaded the country.Although the Cuban military’s focus has shifted in the nearly 15 years since the Soviet Union’s collapse, it remains among the island’s most powerful and respected institutions.Active and retired military officers hold more than a quarter of the seats on the Communist Party’s ruling Central Committee, and generals run important ministries.The military has assumed a role bolstering the economy, operating a major tourism company and a construction enterprise that builds hotels with foreign partners. It has also become a major food producer.Cuba stood on the Cold War’s front lines when it celebrated this date with martial parades in the 1970s and 1980s, pointedly displaying its Soviet weapons just 90 miles south of the United States.The last Cuban troops sent to help African nations with their independence struggles returned home in 1991 and Cuban aid to insurgent movements abroad ended in 1992.Cuba’s last military parade, held four years ago in the eastern city of Santiago, reflected the armed forces’ diminished firepower and its increased focus on civil defense.The island’s troop strength reached a peak of about 300,000 in the early 1960s.The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London in recent years estimated that Cuba now has around 46,000 active troops, as well as 39,000 reservists and a militia of at least 1 million trained to take up arms in a U.S. invasion.Vail, Colorado

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